Meiji Shrine: grounds to ring in the year
The article centres on Meiji Shrine, which is situated in the midst of a 700,000 square metres lush forest landscape. The forest is man-made and designed to last forever. Landscape planners purposefully positioned “around 170,000 trees of 245 different species” in the forest. The long-term forest plan is aimed at minimizing alien species and regularly surveyed to ensure local nature prevails. As such, the local biodiversity draws many visitors to Meiji Shrine.
Meiji Jingu Forest area is a distinct illustration of the artifice of nature and nature tourism, exemplified through the meticulous forest planning and design to elicit aesthetic appreciation and increase economic gains.
Ideas of Japan as actively engaging in environmental preservation is perpetuated through the fact that the forest is designed to last forever, and the conservation of local species and forest maintenance appear to be green initiatives. Not only that, environmental consciousness is depicted as part of the Japanese narrative and interwoven into the lives of the people, evinced from how “the next [forest] plan will be passed on to the next generation.”
Nevertheless, I opine the forest plan reflects the ambivalent attitude of the Japanese towards nature, as nature is only acceptable and attractive when designed and defined by humans to fit their ideals of how nature should be presented (Howard, 1999, p. 421). This ambivalence is also observed through antithetical concepts valued by the Japanese. The permanence of the forest conflicts with the concept of mono no aware (beauty in impermanence) (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005), present in the celebration of seasons through hanami (flower viewing) (Japan Atlas, n.d.). Hence, while the Japanese embrace impermanence, they simultaneously strive for a permanent nature by selecting evergreen tree varieties in the forest planning. Yet, one similarity remains in this paradox: “nature is valued not as “wild nature,” but instead as “humanized” or “culturalized” nature” (Bernard, 2004).
The Japanese also hold a utilitarian view of nature. While entrance to the shrine is free, admission fees apply for visits to the inner gardens and treasure museum. Currently, renovation of the shrine is underway to increase tourist traffic, revealing the economic motivation behind the renovation and demonstrating how the sale of nature inevitably results in its modification (Moon, 1997, p. 222). Moreover, the shrine is publicised as centrally located in Tokyo, highlighting how nature can be conveniently and quickly accessed, advertised in a way similar to fast food consumption.
The similarity between nature and fast-food consumption is epitomized in this statement: “[a] visit to Meiji Shrine could be an easy way of introducing yourself to Japanese culture.” Here, nature is not appreciated for its inherent value, but for its provision of a cultural experience, reflecting a human-centric attitude towards nature (Williams and Millington, 2004, p. 101). Just like fast food, Meiji Shrine is rendered a commodity: accessible, easily consumable, and offering a piece of popular culture.
Evidently, “nature seldom is sufficient attraction in itself” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997, p. 27), but often valued for its economic utility and cultural symbolism. Hence, despite the laborious creation of Meiji Jingu forest, the Japanese exhibit a limited and idealized appreciation of nature, with little ecological motivation to conserve nature.
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Bernard, R. (2004). Shinto and Ecology: Practice and Orientations to Nature. Retrieved from Harvard University Center for the Environment website: http://n.ereserve.fiu.edu/010016679-1.pdf.
Howard, T.E. (1999). Japan’s green resources: Forest conservation and social values. Agricultural and Human Values 16, 421-430.
Japan Atlas. Meiji Jingu. Last accessed September 27, 2016. Retrieved from http://web-japan.org/atlas/architecture/arc09.html.
Kalland, A. and P. J. Asquith. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese Images of Nature (pp. 1-35). P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, LDN: Curzon Press.
Moon, O. (1997). Marketing Nature in Rural Japan. Japanese Images of Nature (pp. 221-235). P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, LDN: Curzon Press.
Parkes, G. (2005, December 12). Japanese Aesthetics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-aesthetics/.
Williams, C.C. and A.C. Millington. (2004). The diverse and contested meanings of sustainable development. The Geographical Journal, 170 (2), 99-104.
This article is only marginally about nature, but it remains relevant for what it does say about biodiversity, forest planning, and commodification of nature in Japan. It is revealing to imagine forest planners a century ago concerned with species diversity, avoiding planting only cedar in favor of a variety of trees found around Tokyo. It is also interesting to learn how shrine officials hope to attract more visitors, especially those from overseas. While not relying exclusively on biodiversity, it is at least an element of the attraction of the shrine, according to officials.